• 03 . 05 . 05
  • Festival time again in Japan and we head out to see a local town festival.

  • Tags

    , , , ,

  • StumbleUpon

Moveable Priests

Golden Week has come again which means lots of national holidays all strung together to give a decent vacation to most Japanese people. It is also the time of year when many towns have their annual festival and tonight, after work, I was able to go to one at the nearby town of Tarui. Tarui has a feel to it much like Takayama, with narrow streets and old-style buildings in abundance. Main street was about as wide as my road here in Gifu, which is to say, not very.

For the festival, 3 movable shrines were paraded through the town. These shrines come from each district of the town, West, East and Central. I got the feeling there was a sort of friendly rivalry, with each district vying for the most well-executed parade. Portable gives the impression of the shrines being small, but they were far from it. The shrines themselves were probably about 10m tall and about 5m wide. They almost didn’t fit down the side streets and one man had to sit on top of each shrine and move the power cables out of the way to avoid any snags. I guess they didn’t have that problem 300 years ago…

Each shrine was pulled and pushed by a team of 10 to 15 men. Women (of course) weren’t allowed to help – in fact, women were banned from even touching the shrines! A path was cleared through the crowd by slightly overzealous men in black traditional clothes carrying lanterns, who ushered the people out of the way and guided the shrines down the road. Their raucous behaviour is best explained by their preparations. Apparently, the men involved will not have slept for 2 days and spent the best part of last night and this afternoon getting totally wasted. Lots of them certainly were tottering about this evening, bumping into people and shouting at them to get out of the way! I’m not sure that entrusting a 100 year old, 2 ton cultural treasure to a bunch of drunk men is the best idea in the world, but it’s traditional and who am I to argue with that?!

At about 7pm each shrine was turned into a mini kabuki stage, and a group of children came out to perform a tradional play. I understood about the same amount as last time I saw a kabuki play, which is to say, not much. Following the performance, we went up to Yaegaki Shrine, a substantially larger and non-movable shrine where we had a quick bow and wish. The evening finale came at around 8:30pm when all three shrines were brought into the main square together. The men came dragging each one through at remarkable speed considering their sizes (The shrines, I mean, not the Japanese!).

Trev remarked, and I agree, that this was the most he’d felt like a tourist since he’d been here. We saw not even a single gaijin and (me especially) spent lots of the evening standing taking photos. I’ll put some of them up tomorrow when I’m less tired and have more free time.

Comments are closed.